Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum on Monday informing all Department of Defense employees of an upcoming mandate to get immunized against coronavirus.
The Associated Press reported, “Members of the U.S. military will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine beginning next month under a plan laid out by the Pentagon Monday and endorsed by President Joe Biden.” According to the outlet, “Austin said the mid-September deadline could be accelerated if the vaccine receives final FDA approval or infection rates continue to rise.”
“I have every confidence that Service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion,” Austin wrote. “To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”
The Food & Drug Administration is expected to fully approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine “by the start of next month,” a recent report by The New York Times said.
According to CBS News, “Vaccines in the military are voluntary when under emergency use authorization by the FDA.” If the federal agency does not give final approval to the vaccine before Austin’s deadline, he would need a waiver from Biden to make vaccinations mandatory, a move the president suggested he would support.
If service members refuse to get the vaccine after it is mandated, the choice “could constitute failure to obey an order and may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” the AP reported. However, they may seek an exemption for reasons such as medical issues or religious beliefs.
I strongly support @SecDef and @DeptofDefense's plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for service members. We are still on a wartime footing against this virus, and every eligible American should get vaccinated. https://t.co/q0MJYFJJgH
— President Biden (@POTUS) August 9, 2021
“Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible,” said Biden in a statement. “Being vaccinated will enable our service members to stay healthy, to better protect their families, and to ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world.”
“I am proud that our military women and men will continue to help lead the charge in the fight against this pandemic, as they so often do, by setting the example of keeping their fellow Americans safe,” Biden’s statement continued.
Secretary Austin said President Biden had asked him “to consider how and when we might add the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to the list of those required for all Service members.” Austin developed the Pentagon plan after consulting with military officials, White House COVID Task Force leaders, and health professionals, his memo said.
U.S. Congressman Mark Green, a Republican from Tennessee, opposes the directive.
“Wearing our country’s uniform does not mean our service members sign away the right to make personal medical decisions,” he said.
More details from the AP:
Austin’s decision reflects similar moves by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging to heights not seen since last winter. The concerns are especially acute in the military, where service members live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, increasing the risks of rapid spreading. Any large virus outbreak in the military could affect America’s ability to defend itself in any security crisis.
CBS News reported that 65% of active duty personnel were fully vaccinated as of Monday, while at least 74% had received one shot.
“I strongly encourage all DoD military and civilian personnel – as well as contractor personnel – to get vaccinated now and for military Service members to not wait for the mandate,” Austin wrote.
He went on to close his memo by saying, “Get the shot. Stay healthy. Stay ready.”
Related: COVID-19: Maxine Waters Says ‘We’re Moving Toward A Mandate’